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Power and the glory for Ireland’s Warrior Princess

A relative newcomer, Rehana Maniar has made a big impression in powerlifting

Rehana Maniar in action at the World Powerlifting Championships. Photograph: Malcolm McGettigan

The small city of Turtnov in the Czech Republic is not well known in this part of the world. It lies about five miles from the Polish border on the banks of the River Upa.

Turtnov is no stranger to historical events. It’s roughly 1,000 years old, comparable to Kilkenny, just in the Czech countryside.

An internet search indicated King Wenceslas once reigned here. This September however, the town is the venue for 2017 GPC World Powerlifting Championships.

The sport of powerlifting may be as alien to many as the town of Turtnov itself. Nevertheless, among the 700 athletes here from the 35 different competing nations, nine are representing Ireland.

Rehana Maniar with medals won at the World Powerlifting Championships. Photograph: Malcolm McGettigan

There’s a total of eight men and one remarkable Dublin woman. Her name is Rehana Maniar and she has already made a strong impression among fellow competitors. Everyone it seems, knows her by name and is well aware that she’s here to break records.

Why wouldn’t she be? When we first met three months ago, she had already broken three world records, despite the fact she has only been competing for three years.

In Turtnov, making her first appearance at a World Championships, Maniar broke the European squat lift record on her way to gold in her M1 class and third best female lifter overall. An hour later, she narrowly missed setting a world bench press record.

It was agonisingly close, but not a bad return for day one. “It was so close, I really fought for it,” she explained.

Having weighed-in successfully and remained sufficiently hydrated, she then ‘carbed up’, as she put it, on local pizza. Her Limerick-based coach, Ger McNamara, left her in no doubt as to what to expect of herself. “You have to be prepared to die under that bar,” he told her.

A competitor at the World Powerlifting Championships. Photograph: Malcolm McGettigan

Four days later, in the community hall that serves as the venue, the ‘Warrior Princess’ hit two of her main targets for these championships.

She first broke the World ‘Equipped’ Squat Record for her 67.5kg M1 ‘Masters’ category - lifting a whopping 185 kilos. That’s three times her own body weight.

Then, lifting the same weight again in the ‘open’ category (competing against all female lifters at your body weight), she secured a second world record before adding third in the Deadlift category the following day.

“I’m famous,” Maniar laughed. “Loads of people came up came up to me all week. They knew my name! They were like ‘F**k. You’re some lifter. Well done.’”

A competitor at the World Powerlifting Championships. Photograph: Malcolm McGettigan

At 42, Maniar’s journey to the top of the sport has been a swift one. After competing impressively in a few local events, Rehana found herself working McNamara. “I met Ger last year and he wanted me to train with him. He only trains serious athletes who will practically die for success,” she said.”Powerlifting is not for the faint hearted.

“I only started when I was 40. I’m in the best physical shape of my life and I’m nearly 43 now . . . It’s a lifestyle. I train four days a week, 2-2.5 hours each session. More and more women are lifting now as the myth of getting bulky is gone. There are 700 lifters here from 35 countries, Ireland has nine and I’m the only girl representing Ireland. You’re never too young or old. I do put a lot of time and dedication into this sport but it’s my passion. To be a world champion you need to be focused and strong, and not afraid to fail. Always aim high.

“There’s a lot of dedication to powerlifting if you’re going to be a world champion. You can’t skip training - ever. I commute to Limerick once a week to train with one of the top coaches in the world. He has a lot to do with my success. He believes in me and that confidence works well for me. I get murdered at training so it’s easy at competition,” she laughed. “I’m purely dedicated to this. I’ve a good diet. Train hard. . . . I’m covered in scars from the (powerlifting) suits. ‘Warrior wounds’”.